“If I had a nickel for every time I heard …”

Add “record.”

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard the word record associated with a U.S. port’s monthly volume … .”

U.S. ports continue to rake in a lot of nickels while they break record after record as consumers keep dropping dollars on everything from Asian-manufactured appliances to zebra-striped apparel. 

Port of Long Beach

Wednesday’s announcement from the Port of Long Beach said the United States’ second-busiest port “continued its unprecedented streak of single-month records in May by moving more than 900,000 cargo containers for the first time in its 110-year history.” 

The port handled 907,216 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in May, breaking the previous “best month” record set just two months earlier by 66,829 TEUs. 

As at other U.S. gateways, the enormous import-export imbalance continued at the Port of Long Beach. Imports were up 42.3% year-over-year to 444,736 TEUs. That jump of more than 40% is not surprising considering much of the world was shut down in May 2020 because of COVID-19. The port said exports were “relatively flat,” up 0.6% year-over-year to 135,345 TEUs.

“E-commerce sales were higher in May compared to levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers continued to spend more money on goods rather than services such as restaurants, bars, sporting events and concerts — likely due to lingering capacity restrictions in many areas,” the port explained in Wednesday’s press release. “Additionally, demand was up for lumber, appliances and other durable goods due to a rise in housing sales and remodels.” 

The next statistic the Port of Long Beach shared illustrated that the container availability crunch continues. “Empty containers moved through the port increased 80.7% to 327,135 TEUs,” it said. 

Kinks in the supply chain developed when the tidal wave of imports began last summer and shippers struggled to quickly get empty containers back to Asia for refilling.

“May was the 11th consecutive month that the Port of Long Beach has broken cargo movement records for a particular month amid a historic cargo surge that started in July 2020,” the port said. 

South Carolina Ports Authority

The South Carolina Ports Authority used the word “record” twice in the first sentence of its May volumes report: “South Carolina Ports had a record May for containers handled at the Port of Charleston, marking the third consecutive month of record volumes.”

The SCPA said it had its best May ever for containers, moving 230,870 TEUs, a 36% year-over-year increase, across the Wando Welch, North Charleston and Hugh K. Leatherman terminals at the Port of Charleston. 

“While the strong comparisons are aided by low volumes in May 2020 due to the pandemic, SC Ports’ volumes consistently show a rebound in the booming Southeast market,” the port said in a press release. “Mega retailers and advanced manufacturers continue to drive volumes at the Port of Charleston. Loaded imports were up 46.5% and loaded exports were up 24.3% in May compared to a year ago.”

Vehicles remain a particularly strong segment for the Port of Charleston. The SCPA handled 21,280 vehicles in May, up 818% year-over-year — a significant jump from last May when many automotive manufacturers were impacted by the pandemic. 

Georgia Ports Authority

Georgia’s ports are on pace to move more than 5 million TEUs during a fiscal year for the first time.

“Last year at this time we were uncertain of the road ahead and expecting a double-digit loss in business,” said Georgia Ports Authority Board Chairman Will McKnight in a statement Thursday. “To see how the GPA team and our supply chain partners have turned things around to achieve a string of the most successful months ever speaks volumes for this world-class workforce.”

The Port of Savannah in May handled 478,620 TEUs, a 41.9% hike year-over-year. The GPA said it was the second-busiest month in the port’s history and the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year growth. 

The GPA said to keep up with the growth, it has accelerated its hiring efforts, bringing on nearly 150 new employees since January. Many are being trained to operate jockey trucks, yard cranes and other port equipment. 

The auto industry was hit particularly hard by COVID-19 as many manufacturers faced plant closures and supply chain disruptions. The bounce back was evident in the GPA’s trade in vehicles and machinery, which was up 347% year-over-year in May, from 14,043 units to 62,873.

‘Ongoing cargo boom’ drives Port of Long Beach’s record April

Port of Charleston cargo volume up nearly 28% year-over-year

Georgia Ports continuing record-setting ways

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.